Jewish World Review Dec. 24, 2003/ 29 Kislev, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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A deadly attack of the goo-goo | IRVINE, Calif.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but words, which millions of us were taught could never hurt us, are the new weapons of choice.

You could ask a fragile fellow and the delicate damsel on either coast.

On the Atlantic, sensitive souls ever on the scout for slights are fretting over whether to erase the names of slave-era figures from schools, streets and monuments, lest frail psyches are grievously wounded. Anyone who rides on a street named for Jefferson Davis, looks upon a monument to Robert E. Lee or attends a school named for Thomas Jefferson risks being blinded, or at least struck down with headache, heartburn or a bout of gout.

Here on the left coast, a few Islamic footballers in Irvine have been warned not to call their teams the Intifada or Mujahideen, or even Soldiers of Allah. Even the mayor is upset lest the fabric of the community be rent by a run. You never know when the fabric of a community will snag on a splinter, a hangnail or even a bad joke.

The organizers insisted the names were not necessarily expressions of support for the Palestinian intifada, but outbursts of boyish bravado. Tigers, wildcats, lizards, horned frogs, razorbacks, vikings, redskins, alligators, Trojans, bears and bulldogs are not regarded as particularly nice, after all, and only a few political activists and animal-rights fanatics without day jobs and with too much time on their hands suffer hot flashes when teams choose ferocious animals (of various species) as mascots.

Nevertheless, in the name of civil therapy — to "heal," that ubiquitous cluster of goo-goo that is the all-purpose curse of our delicate times — the Islamic footballers are trying to do the right thing. "It's important to keep the entire community together," Tarek Shawsky, the league organizer, tells the Los Angeles Times. "If given the chance to start again, I would give the names 'Team No. 1,' 'Team No. 2,' 'Team No. 3' and 'Team No. 4'."

(Thousands might not cheer, but many would no doubt be happy to excuse themselves on hearing chants of "Team, team, let's do No. 1.")

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On the other side of the continent, there's concern over what to do about all those streets, schools and parks named for slave owners, not only Confederate heroes but for slave-holding founding fathers. There's a petition drive in Hampton, Va., to erase the name of Jefferson Davis, the only president the Confederacy ever had, from the Jefferson Davis Middle School. But it's not likely to end there.

There are Robert E. Lees, Stonewall Jacksons, Jeb Stuarts and others dotting the Southern landscape. Some of the honored names, such as Turner Ashby, George Pickett, Pat Cleburne, David O. Dodd and Albert Sidney Johnston and others once familiar to every schoolboy south of the Potomac, are rarely recognized today, when ignorance is honored and historical illiteracy is tenured.

"If it had been up to Robert E. Lee, these kids wouldn't be going to school as they are today," says Julian Bond, a history professor at the University of Virginia, demonstrating that the nation has moved far enough in little more than a century that you don't even have to know very much about the nation's history to teach history at the University of Virginia.

In New Orleans, the parish (or county) school board has ethnically cleansed the roster of schools named for founding fathers who owned slaves. George Washington Elementary School was renamed for a black surgeon who organized blood banks during World War II. Soon the nation's capital must have a new name, since Washington, unlike Lee, owned slaves.

Such name-calling is too much for some parents. Ernestine Harrison, who started the petition drive to change the name of Jefferson Davis Elementary School in Hampton, gave up a similar assault on Robert E. Lee when she learned, despite the efforts of those who teach kids things that aren't so, that the great Confederate commander, who didn't own slaves, joined the Southern cause to defend Virginia against yankee invasion. The origins of some intifadas are more complicated than others.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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